In this opera, we have exchanged the communal ritual of opera attendance for the ritual of individual purchase in a fictional shop store. Detaching opera from the social game of the opera house is part of our ongoing practice, but usually we compose original systems for interaction rather than using template models. However, instead of basing the structure for interaction in Chronos’ Bank of Memories on our own rules, we modeled it on a pre-existing social ritual so that people could participate without learning any new rules.
Rituals are, according to performance theorist and theatre director Richard Schechner, codified and repeatable actions that emphasize efficacy.8 In this exposition, we don't employ the term “ritual” in the narrow sense of fixed ceremonial action, but in the broader meaning of micro-sociological protocol, regulating face-to-face interaction between social actors in everyday life. However, we are cautious not to expand the definition too far and do not include all kinds of habitual and regular acts as pertaining to rituality. Sociologist Randall Collins mentions the common criticism of ritual analysis that it is overgeneralized, in that rituals are supposed to be omnipresent, and he asks rhetorically: “[I]f everything is a ritual, what isn’t?”9 Bearing that in mind we acknowledge that, although being closely related concepts, there are some subtle differences between (for instance) routines and rituals.
Routines, understood as acts performed in the same way over and over again, are flowing habits and regulative arrangements that can easily be interrupted and continued. They can be carried out without much reflection and calculation – such as brushing your teeth in the morning or gathering for family dinner in the evening. Rituals, on the other hand, are compelling and attention demanding linear constructs with distinctive steps that are conditioned in relation to each other. Rituality doesn’t allow for rationalization, but must be carried through step by step. We note that rituals are based on rules governing what you must and can do in order to obtain or avoid certain psychical or social results. And they are more often more conscious than automatic.
Rituals break routines. Think of everything from holiday celebrations and transcendental rites of passage, making us go on leave and adjust to certain programmatic schedules for a moment. Of course, rituals are not the only things that break our routines. Accidents, illnesses, and love do too – not to mention a global pandemic. But our point is that routines help us go on and rituals make us halt. Like when stopping for a red light in an empty street, we restrain our energetic goal-fulfillment for the sake of rules and expectations.
Collins highlights that while anthropologists see ritual as a formal apparatus that maintains order in a societal and cultural macro-structure, microsociologists “takes the situation as the analytical starting point of explanation.”10 So what can rituals be for us as artists? What can an artistic approach to rituality be in comparison to the anthropological and sociological ones? In short, artworld systems are, according to philosopher George Dickie’s institutional theory of art, frameworks for the presentation of art works. Artworld systems, such as opera, are highly ritualized and stratified. Dickie sees an artist as a person who participates in such a system “with understanding in the making of a work of art”,11 with art here defined as the creation of artifacts – that is, conscious material or conceptual alteration of a medium. As artistic researchers we can explore and test the artworld systems’ ability to process and appreciate new artifacts, but we can also toy with and challenge their ossified rituality by confusion of context.
We suggest the term “template rituals” for ritualistic patterns used as frameworks for interaction rituals with familiar steps that can be applied in weird and twisted contexts, in order to balance the strange with the known. In Chronos’ Bank of Memories, our intention has been to let another rituality overrule the usual ritual of opera.